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Holding one another together

Alan McGuckian SJ, co-founder of  the Sacred Space prayer website and current facilitator of ‘The Living Church’ office in Belfast, is happier now than he has ever been.

Fr. McGuckian grew up in Cloughmills, County Antrim. Two of his three older brothers, Bernard and Michael, became Jesuits. He remembers them bringing their Jesuit friends to his home or he would meet Jesuits on various occasions. “They were all really interesting and good fun too”.  Not surprisingly then, when he felt the call of his vocation, it was  to the Jesuit Order. He joined the Jesuit novitiate and was in formation for two years.  After this time he pursued studies in philosophy and theology happy in his vocation as a Jesuit.

While studying philosophy in Milltown, Dublin, Fr. McGuckian developed a deep religious conviction, “I had a certainty that we can know God and we can know the truth”. Not even a strong attack from a former schoolmate could convince him otherwise. To this day he considers “holding onto your stance as a Catholic Christian in the modern world” to be most important.

The Jesuit continued onwards to ordination and he was missioned to Clongowes Wood College boarding school in county Kildare for six enjoyable years. There he would engage in conversations with the young students, facilitating them in conversations around faith, God and other issues of importance to them. In 1990-1991, as part of his tertianship (final stage of Jesuit training) he visited Shembaganur, India where he found the overwhelming diversity of religions to be shocking as well as stimulating.

On foot of media training at the Sacred Heart Program in St. Luke’s, Missouri he returned to Dublin for a number of years  working as Director of the Jesuit Communications Centre.  He also took on the role of  Vocations Director for the Irish province.

The year 1999 was to be key for Fr. McGuckian. Along with British Jesuit Peter Scally he created Sacred Space, the online prayer website which offers people the opportunity to develop a relationship with God and become part a a world-wide virtual community of prayer. This work blossomed and the prayer is now available in twenty two languages. It is ecumenical in its outreach, something that the Jesuits consider important.

Alan McGuckian was later sent to Belfast where he got involved in a number of projects including:  chaplaincy for the Gaelscoileanna: editing  An Timire, the Irish language version of The Sacred Heart Messenger: facilitating work in ‘The Living Church’ office. He worked with Nuala O’Loan setting up consultation groups in various dioceses in the North. Priests and people explored the issues around becoming church, in an open and dialogical way. He then distilled the outcomes into a practical report. According to Alan this model of working, praying and discerning together as a community, is the church at its best. It’s the way things worked in the early church.

He is also involved in ecumenical work in Belfast. Recently he was part of a small group of Jesuits from North Eastern Europe and England who ran a week of guided  prayer in the Ignatian tradition for almost thirty people from both Protestant and Catholic communities. “On the Protestant as well as the Catholic side, there is a huge openness to developing this initiative. It’s based on scripture and Protestants are just so at home with the scriptures and indeed have a lot to teach us and share with us in that regard”.

At 62, Alan McGuckian SJ likes to keep fit through exercise. He regularly takes part in the five kilometre Park Runs in Belfast. He is involved in work that he absolutely loves but he still remains ready and open should the call to another mission come. “God is good and this is God’s work, and it’s all based on faith. It’s great to be here”, he concludes.